Posted by: shannonc | April 6, 2010

Less is More

The pony and I headed to our last D clinic with Joy on Friday.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m fried on flatwork or just feeling impatient with green pony questions, but I have at times recently found myself close to a fever pitch of frustration on the dressage work.  Last season for the most part I focused on riding him forward and establishing rhythm, tempo, and relaxation (hello, training scale) and let him be in front of the vertical.  Most of the time this worked well and we scored well (except for the hollowing into canter).  In a few tests, I had a hard time keeping him in front of my leg and he would wiggle and get heavy and drop behind the vertical – those tests didn’t score so well. 

Over the fall and especially after he came back from his winter break, as his education progressed, he started to be more ready to find a first level frame.  This is certainly the shape and balance we’ll need for Novice.  It meanders, though, between a rock and a hard place – it’s just not confirmed yet.  And that feels at times like riding fifty different ponies in the course of a trip around the ring.  I’ve been encouraged to ask more of him and to get quicker with my aids and corrections to help him understand where I want him to be.  And I’ve been told the transition he’s going through is perfectly normal for a greenie.  But with the season coming up I’ve started to feel more anxious that the work isn’t getting more consistent.

So I take my lessons and I ride around in the ring and try to do my homework.  I think and analyze and try to react more quickly and figure out what’s going on:  is he confused?  Is he being lazy?  Is he trying to negotiate with me?  Am I asking too much?  Too little?  Not doing the right exercises?  Not strengthening him enough?  Not suppling him enough?  Not riding him right?  I fiddle and I try this and that and rinse and repeat on the whole analysis cycle.  Normally, I like figuring, but lately it doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.

Joy comes into the ring on Friday and asks me the innocuous, standard question “so how’s he doing?” and I blurt out pretty much all of the above:  Help!  I don’t understand what’s going on, and I.Am.Frustrated.  So she watches us for a little bit and then she says, “how about I get on him.”  I am so relieved.  I hop off the pony and he looks around as if to say, “what a nice short ride!”

He is a very good sport, though.  When Joy gets on him I can see right away that he is trying.  She rides him around for a bit on a 20m circle (I notice she goes more to the right, his better side) and she appears to have the same pony I do:  I can see from the ground all the things I feel in the saddle.  I’m not sure if this is good or bad – it’s nice in a way that he’s doing the same things instead of becoming instantly wonderful, but on the other hand, if he became instantly wonderful, it might be an easy riding fix for me to change things.  I have no pride when it comes to the easy fix – bring it!

The first thing she says to me is, “he does three or four different things in the course of a circle.”  The second thing she says is, “he doesn’t care about the whip.”  She goes on to explain to me what she’s doing, which is very helpful, and also very simple.  She doesn’t analyze.  She stays in her space and sends him one signal:  be here.  When he hollows, pulls, inverts, leans, speeds up, slows down, or gets crooked, she keeps pressing him forward and keeps the contact.  And he starts to get better.

I got on after she was done and rode one last set.  I had to concentrate hard on being more set in my hands and holding him with my back and abs.  I had to change as he changed – widen my hands, open one rein, sit more on one seatbone than the other, give a quick kick – but she helped me keep my position steady as much as possible and my message consistent, rather than defaulting to the “what else can I try” approach, and the work felt pretty good.

I rode Saturday and got back maybe 75-85% of the quality from Friday, he had Sunday off, and yesterday it was harder to get to the sweet spot again.  I started to get upset with myself so I kicked back and went on a short hack with some little conditioning sets and then came back to it and the work was better.  I ended with lots of walk work – free to med, leg yield from the quarter line and back, leg yield along the wall, spiral circles, walk/trot transitions, and then some stretchy trot, trying to focus on keeping him stretching at the base of his neck.  It was a good ending.  It’s not there yet, but it’s progress.  When it gets easy, I’m throwing one hell of a party.

I have some video and will try to chop it up into uploadable pieces and get it on here.



  1. I would love to see this sometime. I swear to god – this is exactly how I felt with the Big Orange Race Horse last year….

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